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Beatitudes: Matthew 5:3-11

Blessed Are Those who Mourn


Verse 4:

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (NRSV)


You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you. (The Message)


Blessed are those in emotional turmoil; they shall be united inside by love. (Aramaic)


Grief tells us that we loved deeply and that we are passionate. We are often unaware of the grief that we carry, that has been pushed aside in the rush of life or in the judgment that we should be done with its work. In reality, grief is slow. It rises and falls like a tide. Where in your heart do you experience a grief that lingers, that is calling for some attention? Notice the thoughts and feelings that respond, and be present to this experience. (The Artist’s Rule, Christine Paintner)



Reflections on this beatitude

Which of the four versions do you resonate with the most? Why?

Where are you feeling grief in your life; relationships, work, pets, loss of a vision?

How do you feel God guiding you through this grief process whether old or new grief?

How can grief be a blessing?

Six word answers to the question “What is Church?”

I do not list names or ages because these were a response to a face book post by a friend of mine and I didn’t ask permission to print names. Here goes…

A temple in which to consciously receive the holy spirit

Spiritual community for support and growth

Next was a listing of the etymology of the word:-)  (over my head!)

Relationship with the vehicle of God’s love

A very human, God-infused institution!

Human attempt to institutionalize spirituality (with varying degrees of success)   That was 10 words but who’s counting?

Listening, obeying and suffering together (He says this is not original with him)


Essay on “What is Church?” by Barry Thomas who has been a pastor at churches in three states, specializing in spiritual formation and leadership development. He has a background in petroleum engineering and now works in that field. In his mid-forties, he is married and has two college age children. He lives in Texas.

If I were to use one word to describe my relationship with church right now, the word would be disillusioned. Not disillusioned in an angry or rebellious sense, but the kind of disillusionment that results from unmet expectations…expectations of the church providing purpose and fulfillment in life; altruistic expectations that politics don’t exist in church; that all church goers love each other and want what is best for each other and that participating in a church is spiritually transforming.

I grew up in a Christian home where church was a central part of my life. My family faithfully went to church every time the doors were opened: Sunday morning, Sunday evening and Wednesday evening. Our friends were people from church; our social activities were church activities. As a result, I formed a belief that religion and spirituality were synonymous. If someone asked if I was a Christian, I would say, “Yes, the church I go to is…” That was the proof that I was a Christian. I didn’t know how to separate Jesus and church because, in my life, they were synonymous. Spiritual growth was measured by church activity, Bible knowledge and good behavior.

With the help of a spiritual director, I started paying attention to my heart and God started working on it. I began integrating emotional health into my spiritual growth because that was the limiting factor to my growth. For many Christians, a study on the book of Romans is what is needed to grow. For me, I didn’t need another Bible study. I didn’t know how to integrate and apply the Bible knowledge I already had. I needed to learn how to identify my emotions and pay attention to what they were telling me about my beliefs. I needed to understand about the parts of myself I didn’t accept or like and learn to bring them out of hiding for God’s love to bring healing. I needed to give myself permission to get angry and to experience grief; to set healthy boundaries on my life and empathize with others. Spiritual growth became the ability to receive God’s love and, in turn, love God and others well. It is measured by acceptance, grace, forgiveness and, of course, love. But how can I love God and love others well if I don’t know how to do these things well?

For me, there is now a distinction between religion and spirituality; between church and Jesus. They are no longer synonymous. With the two separated out, I see that the role of religion is to help a person grow spiritually. In other words, my church experience should be one that helps me experience Jesus and His love in deeper and deeper ways. Religion should nurture spirituality; not get in the way.

So the question is: “What is the role of church in my life now?

As the shift was taking place in my heart (and it still is in many ways), slowly, but steadily, my beliefs changed about the role of church in my life. If it’s all about love, how does the church fit in with that? How do I engage and participate with church now?

The older I get (and hopefully more mature as well), the less my spiritual growth is dependent on church. It is still important for me to be part of a church body. It is still important for me to participate in corporate worship; to hear a message from God’s word; to partake in the sacrament of communion. What have become more important to me (and more formative for me) are the relationships. It is essential for me to be in relationship with a group of believers where I can be known and accepted and loved, and I, in turn, can know, accept and love others.

It is like a parent-child relationship. As a child, I was dependent on my parents for everything: food, shelter, clothing, safety, love, etc. As I grew, I learned to do things for myself: brush my teeth, dress myself, tie my own shoes, etc. One of the primary jobs of my parents was to teach me to be independent of them. As an adult, I am still in relationship with my parents; however, it is different now. My sustenance and safety are no longer dependent on them.

Is it possible that one of the primary jobs of the church is to teach me to have a relationship with Jesus that is not dependent on church? If so, then my expectations need to change. I can’t expect church to still be tying my spiritual shoes when it is something I need to be doing myself.

So disillusionment…what do I do with that?

The disillusionment fades as I understand that my relationship with church changes like a parent-child relationship and I change the expectations I have about the role of church in my life. And as my spiritual growth becomes more independent from church, then it is up to me to create the kind of church environment I need to help me grow. Much of my spiritual growth over the last several years has not come from a program or ministry that my church has organized. It has come from experiences and relationships I have sought out. I have built relationships with people who can be fellow sojourners with me. And at the same time, I stay connected to my church much like I stay connected to my parents as an adult.


Bobbie Spradley is an active lay woman in the Lutheran church. She is a very young 81 year-old, a retired university professor and author, mother of three step mother of four and grandmother of 14. Her recent spiritual quest has been to list as many attributes of God as she can find in the Bible. She has notebooks full of her findings. She writes her answer to “Why Church?

Why Church? My Story

Going to church has always been a part of my life. I was raised that way. It was expected. We went without question. Growing up with that expectation, I learned to enjoy singing hymns, tolerate sermons, participate in youth activities and generally feel surrounded by a faith family who knew me and cared about me.

I didn’t question why I went to church until early adulthood. Newly married, living in new places, the subject came up for fresh scrutiny. Why did I go to church? No one told me I had to any longer. Many people I knew did not go. Yet I felt drawn. Why? Deep within each of us is a God-hunger, whether or not we know it or like it. We’re incomplete until God enters our lives and makes us whole. Church was a means for me to know God. Study of Scripture, absorbing the gospel message, discovering God’s greatness and goodness in new ways, learning the value of prayer, living out my faith in
daily life – all of these were by-products of my being in a community of faith.

There were also opportunities for service. So I continued to go to church.
As time went on, however, many of my reasons for attendance were being met outside of church. Through such things as spiritual direction, work shops, retreats and personal study, my God-hunger was being met in new and increasingly deep ways. Attending church was less meaningful. Still it drew me. I wanted a faith community with whom to worship. Singing God’s praises together, participating in holy communion, hearing the spoken Word enriched and complemented my private devotional life and spiritual
journey. I wanted to be involved in service but my focus shifted toward encouraging others to engage in spiritual healing and enrichment. No doubt all this is a factor of my age and place in my own spiritual growth.

“Why church” for me has now in my later years taken on new meaning. Yes, continuing to participate in communal worship and fellowship is enriching and important to me. However, it can’t replace my need for a deeper spiritual life which is primarily met through private daily prayer and time in Scripture. Learning to know God is a joy I wholeheartedly pursue. So, why church?

I see church now as a place to give. I’m not speaking of giving money or time spent in service. I practice those as I’m able and believe they are important. Rather, I mean looking for ways to give – to reach out – to others. I feel God’s call in this and have asked God to sharpen my awareness and sensitivity to those around me. I look for opportunities to encourage and bring joy to the people I meet. I smile and acknowledge the presence of others as often as I can. I make a point of memorizing names and call people by name as much as possible. The way their faces light up tells me it means something to them.

Being a member of our church prayer chain, I know the challenges many face and am able to ask them individually how their health is progressing, express
sympathy for loss of a loved one, or encourage someone looking for a job. I look for ways to affirm people, compliment them and acknowledge their contributions and efforts. Even a touch or a hug makes a difference. These may seem like small things but expressing God’s love can promote healing and unity. Love shared is love multiplied.

The bottom line for me is that church can mean different things at different times for each of us depending on where we are in our journeys. But the fact remains, we still need God in order to be whole and we need each other to help foster that. For me, that’s “why church”.

Reflections on these essays

Both of these people separate church activities from their inner spiritual life. How do you see that in your life?

Have you made peace with the church? With what it does and doesn’t give you?

What one word would you use to describe your relationship with church?

Scripture for Pondering: Lectio Divina and Pocket Prayer


In my prayer experience each day I choose to read the scripture that is cited in the common lectionary, which is a selection of Hebrew Scriptures and New Testament writings, chosen by a small prayerful group of people for use world-wide. Each week there is a different combination of scriptures and each season of the church year the scripture aligns with that particular season. If you have any interest in following the lectionary, the web site that I use is I print out the portion for the next two months and put it in my Bible.

The way I choose to use the scripture is two fold. The first is called Lectio Divina, or divine reading. It is an ancient way to pray with scripture by settling in more deeply to a small portion of scripture. I will describe my own version of this process which goes something like this: I read the assigned scripture and just let one verse or word surface for me, one that especially calls to me or seems to stand out in some way. Then I quietly stay with that phrase or verse or word and see what comes to my mind or what feelings emerge. I ask God to show me what this means and how it relates to my life. Then I stay quiet to see what else emerges. Lastly I write about it in my journal and thank God for giving this to me. If you want a more formal version of Lectio you can google it and find the exact steps. There is even a video describing how to do it on uTube.

The second thing I do is called my “pocket prayer.” I just write one word or a phrase that has really stood out to me on a small card. I put it somewhere that I will notice it, like in my calendar or in my purse or on a mirror or in a pocket. I just want to stay with this one word or phrase and see what happens in my life, see what else comes up that will illuminate this word in my life. Sometimes I keep just one verse for months, even years. I’ve been living with one verse for more than ten year now and I still see it moving in my life.


So I invite you to use either a lectio or a pocket prayer.

I will list several of my “stand out” verses from the lectionary of the last year or so, randomly, to see if any of them stand out for you. If they do, use them. If not, let them go. They are all from The Message translation by Eugene Peterson. I use that version because I find it authentic and the language more accessible. I won’t list the scripture references because I am illustrating how to use them just for the word or phrase, not for further scripture reading. Enjoy and learn…


A whole healed put together life right now.


Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.


Your fidelity, a roof over our heads.


Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.


Keep company with me and you’ll learn how to live freely and lightly.


God’s spirit beckons.


Vibrant beauty has gotten inside of us.


And the verse I’ve lived with now for several years is this: And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken, and I have done it, says the Lord.


Reflections on this piece:

Which verse or words stand out for you? Why?

What deeper meaning do they have in your life?

What pocket word will you take with you?

How is God calling you to a deeper place of intimacy with Him?


Beatitudes: Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit

Matthew 5: 3-11


I share four versions of each beatitude: New Revised Standard Version, The Message, one of several choices from an Aramaic translation, and Christine Paintner’s reflection from her book, The Artist’s Rule. The reason for this is that the Beatitudes are frequently hard to understand or to translate to our own lives. I hope that this opportunity to experience them from different viewpoints will open them for you and take you to a new place within yourself. I hope this inspires you to write your own beatitude or to sing it or to pray it. Blessed are you who receive this love.


 Blessed are the Poor in Spirit

Verse 3:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (NRSV)


You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is the more of God and his rule. (The Message)


Tuned into the Source are those who live by breathing Unity; their ”I can!” is included in God’s. (Aramaic)


Paintner’s reflection: She says the Beatitudes are not about our big radiant self, but about the tender, quiet self, or the self who has been shut out for some reason. Now we can invite the wisdom of the quiet self.

“To be poor in spirit is to surrender yourself to something much bigger and vaster than you own ego. This poverty allows you to recognize your experience of exile in the world. God is present as the one who stirs in the depths of our hearts, not in the dominant ways we usually think out in the world. The experience of poverty and brokenness often acquaints us more deeply with the gift of simplicity as we discover what is most important. Where in your heart do you experience this call to simplicity, to finding that place where you and God meet? Notice what stirs in response, and be present to this experience. “


Reflections on this post.

Where does this beatitude resonate in you?

Which version speaks to you and why?

Where are you poor in spirit right now?

Where in your heart do you experience the call to simplicity that Paintner describes?

Today, in our “What is church?” challenge we encounter a family of four with their 6-word answers. And we hear from a mom in her thirties and a pastor of a multi-cultural church.


6-Word Descriptions of church by a family of four. Isaiah is 12, Grace is 9. Jenny is the mom. Michael is the dad, both in their forties. Having been Quakers for many years they are now exploring new forms of spiritual community.

Isaiah: joyful fun wilderness enthusiastic movement
Grace: full of life, games happy truthful
Jenny: full of life, community joy service
Michael: Moving together with the Holy Spirit


Essay on “What is Church?” by Jessica Sanborn, a thirty-something mother of three. She is on sabbatical from church and the practice of law.

Going to church was my world growing up. Consequently, I think that both my world and my understanding of church were too small. Even as my church world started to feel confining and surreal, I would never have imagined that a time would come when I stayed home, as a rule, on Sunday mornings.

On my last morning as a Sunday regular, I walked into our church service and immediately and uncontrollably started shaking and crying. As I sat down, I remember “hearing” distinctly: “You do not belong here.” That phrase was gentle and hard. I knew that I had to go, and it scared me because it meant leaving my world as I knew it.

At first, I thought that this panic attack was due to stress and an overload of anxiety. Which it was. But now I wonder if this was also my call to step out into a wilderness, to disentangle myself from the familiar and safe. I don’t know that I would have left any other way.

Encounters with God occur in the wilderness, don’t they? Encounters that leave us limping and undone. And isn’t that when we find Real Life?   After we let go and are undone?

I wonder if this wilderness time is also an invitation to a different understanding of Church?

An invitation to Church as More. More than Sunday mornings and outreach. More than small groups and potlucks.

An invitation to a Church that is broad and deep and ancient and new. To a Church that cuts across time, culture, politics, gender, creed, and denomination. This Baptist daughter has much to learn from Catholic saints and poets, from Episcopalian scholars, from liturgical practices, from ancient rhythms.

Maybe I needed to learn that church is not the best place to listen for God’s word. I’m finding that I listen best in silence. I’m discovering God’s word in the woods, while I wash my floors, and while I hold my children. I keep finding myself in the stories, like I am living the word somehow.

Maybe I needed to learn that church is not the only place to worship God. My presence can meet God’s presence in my room, in my car on the drive to preschool, in the kitchen while I am chopping vegetables, or just staring out of the window watching birds fly across the sky.

Maybe I needed to realize that church is not the only place to form a fellowship for our journey. I often had the nagging suspicion that we got so busy doing church, we didn’t have time to be the Church. I was so busy with life and church that I hardly had time to know my neighbors, let alone love them. I’ve found this aspect of church tricky while both attending and not attending. But now I have more space, both in time and heart, to walk beside those around me.

I kept hoping that church would provide a place to belong, like it did when I was in youth group. But maybe I needed to learn to belong to myself, to God, to the world around me, as part of the fellowship of seekers and lovers.

My wilderness time is a time of learning to be. I wonder if this time is also about learning another way of being Church.

A way that is not limited by denominations or sanctuaries.

A way where we join anyone who is living as God’s hands and feet in this world.

A way where we walk alongside others who are listening for the call to follow, wherever that way may lead.

A way where we wake up into a spirit life that is free and uncontainable, like the wind.

A way where we escape the jar of yeast, thrown into the batch of flour, transforming the world around us as we are also transformed.

A way where we experience Real Life like a spring erupting in our very beings.

Maybe someday this way will lead me back into Sunday morning fellowship and participation in a local church. But in a new way–with a spacious and grateful heart, new eyes, listening ears, and a new appreciation for my place in the broad, eternal ocean of grace and God’s love.


In this essay Kelly Chatman shares his view of church. He is an African American pastor of an inner city multi-racial protestant church. He’s been pastor there for more than 12 years. He is in his fifties.

What is church to me?   I believe the church is the most powerful institution in the world. The church is the only institution I know that says that no matter who you are or where you come from you are welcome here. This is important to me because I believe a basic human desire is to know that we are safe and that we belong. When the church is fulfilling its promise the church is a place of safety and belonging. The liturgy, gathering the experience of worship is an enactment of “oneness”. When we worship God is present and everyone is welcome, there are no exceptions!

Church to me is where people learn and develop faith and the belief that God cares and we are not alone. The church teaches and encourages learning through intellect and experience what is sacred. Church is not limited to a building, congregation or denomination but is the discovery of how and where and how we experience God in the world.

The church is where I invest my hope as a place or experience where people experience and explore their connection to a community. I am an African American pastor in a denomination that is primarily White and in numerical decline. In our history we have struggled to fully include all people.  The church for me witnesses to a man named Jesus who came as Son of God and he welcomed people with different social, racial and economic backgrounds.  The Jesus and church I know welcomes everybody, gay, straight, rich, poor, black and white.

What is church for you?

How does that affect the way you live your life?

How is your view of church different now than it was in your childhood?



Dear Subscribers,

I’m excited about a new series on my blog between now and Christmas (or maybe even until Easter!) called Exploring 21st Century Faith. I’ve already published a few essays on Faith at Work to get the series started.

What I plan for this next phase is a combination of several ways to think about faith/spirituality: a series of 6-word descriptions of “church,” a series of short essays by many people on “What is church? or Why church?”, a new look at the Beatitudes, a pithy set of lectio divina scriptures from my daily readings, and some poetry tossed in for variety. So look each week for a feast of ideas, experiences, love and vulnerability as we share the new ways God is appearing and inviting us in this still-young century.

And be sure to respond if your spirit prompts you. Or just listen and reflect. Or smile. Or cry. Or whatever you do when you hear parts of your own story told.  Thanks for continuing to stay with me on this amazing journey.


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